January 9, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

Settling Into Loring Place

Among the small plates to share: crispy chicken with celery root and maple-chili glaze.

          Uploading Dan Kluger’s Loring Place has been like birthing an elephant. Two years in the works. It seemed to take him forever to settle on a name. For so long it was Dan’s place, whatever. Kluger fans, and that includes riots of fanatics who jockeyed for his tables at ABC Kitchen, have been plotting to stake an early claim at his new double storefront on Eighth Street since before it had a floor.

Kluger and his kitchen team work on a wood burning oven and wood burning grill.

          Now, even though the place is vast, even with 120 seats and eaters crowding out drinkers at the bar, Kluger and his two chefs de cuisine, Karen Shu and Seth Seligman, launched at full speed. I’m saying that, needless to say, it’s hard to know what eating at Loring Place will be like when they get a chance to exhale.

No farmer ever promised his radishes a frolic like this: bobbing in a satiny hummus.

          But we’re here. A friend knew someone who knew someone who got the rez. I could order a $15 cocktail called Gale Force.  I study the menu. This is how I want to eat now. “Breads, Spreads & Snacks,” it begins. (Though $6 for whole wheat bread and butter strains my smile.)

Top: baked ricotta and roasted kabocha with grilled sourdough, butternut fries below, right: crispy cauliflower.

          Still, “Small Plates” of vegetables, unexpected sauces. The kind of seasonal roots and greens we loved at ABC Kitchen. Butternut “fries,” with lemon-Parmesan dressing. Ricotta baked on top of roasted Kabocha in an iron pan comes with rustic toast, a little bit singed. Kabocha capped on the menu seems to make it a must. Jean-Georges Vongerichten owns the radish -- it’s his signature -- but nothing he does with the little red bobbin is as marvelous as Kluger’s radish tribe standing in creamy hummus to spread on sunflower seed crackers.

Wood-grilled broccoli salad with orange and kohlrabi in pistachio-mint dressing.

          Our foursome focuses on veggies to start. Crispy spiced cauliflower with Meyer lemon jam and chiles. Wood-grilled broccoli salad with orange, kohlrabi and pistachio-mint dressing. Brussels sprouts with apple, avocado and honey-mustard vinaigrette. And a gift from the kitchen, leeks and pears with walnuts, yogurt and a sherry dressing.

I overlooked leeks and pears with yogurt and walnuts, but the kitchen noticed and sent it as a gift.

          We’re at one of those long awkward rectangles up against a booth in a noise tunnel. I can glance into the  kitchen and watch the action in front of the wood-burning oven. The dining room is spare. I wish it had some charm beyond the greenery of trees lined up outside the windows in the backyard.

I meant to get up and visit the kitchen but I was locked in my corner with just a measured view.

          I know Kluger agonized over the details and you can see the money spent. The original pine timbers put together as tables, the striped Knoll fabric on the banquettes, the vintage orange pitchers, the rustic gray aprons he got his pal Todd Snyder to design.

          When Kluger pops out to say hello, I can’t help myself.  “I hope you’re planning to do something about this awful noise,” I greet him.

          “Is it noisy?” he asks. “I was gauging it to ABC Kitchen,” he says.

Brussels sprouts seem inevitable these days. I'm not that excited about these with apple and avocado.

          “But ABC Kitchen is a torture, too.” I respond. “We just put up with it because we love that menu.”

          At that point he admits under-the-table soundproofing is already ordered. That’s how they all start. Under the tables. It’s cheap and easy. It’s never enough.

Parsnip anglotti packages are especially delicate with the tartness of Meyer lemon.

          “If I’m the only one that complains, you don’t need to do anything,” I say. He glances around. The kitchen! The crowd! The critics! He dashes away.

Our crisp blistered mozzarella-topped pizza has the sweetness of dates, plus radicchio, bacon and chilis.

          Crispy chicken nubbins with celery root in a maple-chili glaze arrive in the second wave of small plates. With the delicate little parsnip-filled agnolotti packages we’ve chosen from a trio of pastas, and the pizza -- mellowed with the sweetness of dates, the bitterness of radicchio, and the savor of caramelized chunks of bacon -- we’re already full.

Don't miss the cheeseburger we'd been told. We shared it, cut neatly into four towers by the kitchen.

          But the cheeseburger is here. With very good fries. We get the kitchen to cut the bun neatly -- picks hold the four skyscraper towers in place. It’s nicely stuffed with more house-cured bacon, cheese and a slurp of pickled pepper aioli.

We could have saved $31 by not ordering the majestic rare lamb chops we didn't have room to eat.

          And there’s no way to cancel the lamb chops at this point. The server is setting them on the table.  The two double chops look truly fabulous, very rare under piles of mint breadcrumbs, a puddle of spicy tomato compote and Swiss chard tucked underneath.  I saw off a bite. Lauren manages a small sliver too. Someone must take the rest home.

You don't need to be keenly hungry to keep eating good French fries. It's almost a reflex.

          The full-up groaning doesn’t mean we won’t try one dessert. Three of us are food professionals -- this is a sixth visit for Ali who lives around the corner. We rally. The dessert list has a few key words in caps but only one word in quotation marks. “Blizzard” it is.

The "Blizzard" has the makings of a classic craving: sweet, salt, cruch and chocolate.

          The blizzard is a crunchy roundup of pretzels, walnut toffee, chocolate cookie fudge and Meyer lemon. It might remind you, as it does me, of the salty caramel ice cream sundae with peanuts and popcorn at ABC Kitchen. That may be the point. 

We agreed to try one dessert but the kitchen sends out a trio. Thrown to the fates, I try them all.

          You may decide to try the monkey bread with cranberries, or the cashew crunch caramel milk chocolate bar (another gift from the kitchen for us). But I’m predicting the blizzard may span the seasons and become a new craving.

          So much for an early first evening at Loring Place. You probably didn’t need me to fan the flames.

The sommelier pours a $12 glass of a modest Tuscan red: it goes better with chicken than with broccoli.

21 West 8th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. 212 388 1831. Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm. Sunday 5:30 pm to 10:30. Closed Monday.


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